Jesus’ creative imagination

icon3I’m so thankful I’ve come into James Alison’s work, and especially to encounter in The Joy of Being Wrong his fullest articulation of the gospel in light of Girard’s insights. Besides the insights themselves, Alison articulates things simply and artfully, without undo complication or repetition. And apart from his slightly misinformed prejudice toward ‘transcendental’ thinking (which despite his objections cannot help but pop up here and there), he better describes what I’ve been aiming at for some time. Here’s a wonderful passage from Ch 9 (“The Trinity, Creation, and Original Sin”) that expresses well the trinitarian logic behind what had to be “inaugurated” by the Son – concretely, historically, paradigmatically – but brought to universal participatory reality by the Spirit. (Note: By “ecclesial hypostasis” Alison means the realization of the Son’s ‘personal’ identity in the Church.)

…By making of his going to his victimary death a creative and deliberate act Jesus is bringing into being a certain visible and contingent practice which is a creation in the obvious human sense of a work of art, something never before imagined or brought into being by any human interpretative and imaginative conception. The creative fulfillment of the Father’s creation is not the sudden bringing into being of some abstract and general universal which annuls the contingent telling of the human story. It is a creative bring into being of a particular and contingent practice which is itself to be the constant possibility of the untelling of the human story and the making of the human story bear the weight of creatively reflective the Father’s creation.

In bringing into being, then, this contingent practice, Jesus was literally creating the possible historical terms of reference by which the Holy Spirit could become a historical reality, and it is thus he who sends the Holy Spirit from the Father. In his going to the Father he has brought about the historical possibility in contingent, linguistic, practical, institutional terms which make it possible for the Father to send the Holy Spirit. The ecclesial hypostasis is the creative living out of the historical practice inaugurated by Jesus’ going to the Father: that is, the ecclesial hypostasis is the visibility of the Son’s sending of the Holy Spirit. This the Holy Spirit is the constant keeping alive of the practice inaugurated by the Son. The Spirit is the Spirit of Truth bringing into being, original creation, whose presence in this world takes the form of an advocate uncovering the lies of the world and defending the children of God who are being brought into being from the persecution of the Accuser, the liar from the beginning. So the Spirit keeps alive the historical practice inaugurated by the Son, turning that practice into the paradigm by which sin, righteousness, and judgment are to be understood. Sin is being locked into aversion to the possibility of the belief which Jesus is bringing into being: aversion to being drawn into a self-giving living out of desire made possible by Jesus’ having creatively forged a human living, unaffected by death. Righteousness is the love which brings into being by creative self-giving up to death because it is not moved by death. Judgment is the way in which this self-giving death reveals and thus brings to an end the lie of the necessity of victimary death which is the governing principle of this world.

pente1The Spirit, then, will make it possible for this paradigm to become creative truth. It makes constantly visible and keeps in practice creative possibilities inaugurated by the Son’s self-giving to death. It does this in such a way that we are always able to find our way forward from being children of the homicidal lie to being children of the Father. It is important that this being guided into truth be understood not to be an essentially negative thing, as though what is daring and creative is our involvement in the world and what the Holy Spirit has come to do is guide us back to our real origins and so permit us to be what we really are—the model of the return to the womb. The understanding at work here is exactly the reverse: our being guided into truth is our being opened into creative imitative use of the paradigm brought into being by the Son: it is truth that is daring dynamic reflection of God that is being brought into being. Compared to this, all the apparent creative darings of the world are so many stillbirths.

This, I suggest, is what enables us to understand something of the image of the woman in travail which we find in John 16:20-24. Jesus’ going to his death of course produces sorrow for the disciples and joy for the world. However, what Jesus is bringing about in his going to his death is like a woman in travail. In fact his going to his death is the constitutive labor pain by which creation is able to bring forth the children of God which had not been able to come to light while creation was under the order of “this world.” Jesus, the Son, is the human being who has always been coming into being, and now he really will come into being, through this labor pains, in the creative lives of the disciples who will manifest him. This is why they will ask nothing of him in that day, but will ask the Father in his name, because in that day they will be the son, the person of the son will have been brought to birth in them, and thus they can and will ask the Father directly. The joy which has been Jesus’ from the beginning will be theirs, because it is the joy of being the son, and is an unalienable part of the sonship which has been brought to creative fruition in them.

Later in this same chapter Alison further discusses the structure of Jesus’ creative imagination as the context and means by which Jesus transforms his victimization into the demythologizing of religious violence and sacrifice. By “creative imagination” Alison is not talking about the science of ‘right brain’ vs ‘left brain’ or the prophetic imagination so important to Israel’s religious experience and tradition, but the transforming presence in us of the historical truth of Christ’s way of life made accessible to us through his death/resurrection. Alison:

At this stage of our analysis there seems no way of getting around a particular feature of the Johannine witness. This is John’s sense of marvel at the extraordinary nature of Jesus’ creative imagination. It is not merely that John puts into Jesus’ mouth certain utterances of extraordinary boldness concerning his preexistence and so forth. What is more remarkable is that John depicts the structure of God’s creative process as the human creative imagination of Jesus…the creative content of an imagination that is in no way touched by death, how it is possible for a human imagination that is in no way marked by death to bring into being what amounts to the most prodigious human invention ever, the human structure by which what had appeared to be human nature is revealed, changed, and empowered to become something different.

Those who protest at the Johannine divine utterances concerning preexistence and unicity with the Father do not protest enough. Such phrases in themselves are positively innocuous compared to the grandeur of John’s comprehensive lying in behind them. Those who protest are perhaps locked unwittingly into the sort of Docetism or Monophysitism which they seek to denounce in these phrases, because they do not perceive that the real boldness of John’s conception is that all this divinity was made present as a human creative imagination…

The original man, then, with creative imagination intact because in no way shaded into futility by any sort of involvement with death, came among us and imagined into being the unleashing of the extraordinary possibility of our being allowed actively to share in that creative imagination and practice, bringing about our free creative movement into what we were originally to be.

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One comment on “Jesus’ creative imagination

  1. brian says:

    Allison is not going to win awards for rhetorical beauty, but I think his basic ideas are quite good.

    Liked by 1 person

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